AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov.-elect Paul LePage offered a first glimpse into his inner circle on Wednesday, nominating Major Gen. John Libby and former Waterville Police Chief John Morris to head the departments handling public safety and security in his administration.
LePage, a Republican, said that Libby has agreed to continue serving as commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, a post he has held since 2004.
As commissioner, Libby is adjutant general of the Maine National Guard and oversees veterans’ issues as well as emergency preparedness. A graduate of the University of Maine, Libby served active duty in Vietnam and in Europe before joining the Maine Army National Guard in 1975.
“I’m honored to be in the same room as him,” LePage said at a State House press conference. “The man is just the real deal. … We are so, so fortunate that he has agreed to stay on.”
Libby said he is inspired every day when he sees the young Mainers gathered at Camp Keyes who have served the state and nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“If you can’t get excited about coming to work leading that kind of organization and being surrounded by those kinds of people, then I guess it is time to retire. But it is not my time,” Libby said.
Morris, meanwhile, would succeed Anne Jordan as commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, a position that oversees state police, fire marshals, emergency medical services and Maine’s Gambling Control Board.
During the gubernatorial campaign, Morris served as candidate LePage’s chief of staff and has since helped direct the governor-elect’s transition effort. He served four years as police chief in Richmond before beginning a 13-year stint as police chief in LePage’s hometown of Waterville.
Prior to that, Morris spent 30 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, serving as commanding officer on a warship with a crew of 550 men as well as commanding officer of a Navy base in South Korea. Morris also served three tours in Vietnam.
“My lifelong experience — 30 years as a naval officer in leadership, in management, in both combat and noncombat situations — has provided me with a life experience that I think I can transfer to any job, especially a job where there is a semi-military chain of command,” Morris said.
Morris and Libby are the first of 15 commissioner nominations that LePage plans to make by the end of the year. All nominations are subject to Senate approval, however the new Republican majorities in the Legislature gives LePage the votes he needs, although not by wide margins.
During the campaign and since his election last month, LePage has pledged to award Cabinet posts to the best-qualified individuals, not to political allies or friends. Both Libby and Morris live in Waterville, and Morris served as the city’s policy chief while LePage was mayor.
Asked whether the public should expect to see more Waterville faces in his inner circle, LePage said, “There might be one other that we are looking at, but that would be it.”
Representatives from both sides of the aisle praised LePage’s choice of Libby to continue heading the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.
“Gen. Libby’s outstanding service to Maine’s veterans and National Guard during his long military career and during the past six years as Commissioner makes him far and away the best candidate for the job,” House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said in a statement.
House Speaker Bob Nutting, R-Oakland, said the state is “fortunate to have his continued leadership in such a critical role.”
“Gen. Libby has a long record of public service, and he has served the state of Maine in so many ways,” Nutting said.
The Democratic response to LePage’s selection of his former police chief and campaign adviser was more cautious, however.
Rep. Anne Haskell, a Portland Democrat who co-chaired the Legislature’s Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety last session, said in an interview that Morris’ background in the Navy and local law enforcement will likely serve him well.
But Haskell said there are many other administrative aspects of the commissioner of public safety, including handling large federal grants and overseeing programs such as Maine’s sex offender registry and computer crimes lab.
Added Cain: “We look forward to learning more about the credentials of the former Waterville Police Chief John Morris and how they qualify him to oversee statewide public safety.”
The LePage administration also is widely expected to nominate former Husson University President and GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Beardsley to serve as commissioner of the Department of Conservation.